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20 things I Have Learned in 20 Years-Part 1

It is so exciting to be celebrating 20 years of El’s Cards in 2019.  What an amazing journey it has been.  There have been so many lessons  along the way.  A few of them happened fast but most of them were learned over time. This blog series will happen in 5 parts.  I really hope that for anyone who is just starting their business, some of the things I have learned are helpful to you.

hand calligraphy

Photo by Melissa Mullen

1. I can’t do it alone. I had to learn to ask for help. And more importantly to accept help when it was offered. Considering that I was an independent person this was very hard for me. And honestly, I like to have control!  To this day, we do all of our printing in house because we want to be able to control the colors, quality, timelines, and everything surrounding the print pieces that are created at El’s Cards.

There were times though, when I had a deadline or something due, and just needed an extra pair of hands.  When I was first starting the business, I lived with my sister, Laura, and our two cats, Charlotte and Wilbur.  Laura helped me out by stamping backs of cards, giving helpful opinions when I came up with new designs, and throwing in extra money for the oil bill when I was waiting for someone’s check to come in (among other things!).  My mum always says that people love to help!  When people offer…accept it.  They wouldn’t be offering if they didn’t mean it.

This carries through until now!!  We had an amazing craft show season in the fall before Christmas.  That said, we were selling so much, our inventory needed more restocking than ever!  Bob has his roles, and I have mine. He does the print production and handles that whole area, and I am the creative person, work with the clients, do the blog, etc.  I ended up jumping back “into the trenches” to help us prepare for the shows to come. Similarly, Bob is now writing some blog entries while I focus more on creating new wedding suites for the upcoming year.  We work together so well.   When one needs help, the other person is there.

2. Decide on payment policies and stick to them.   It is wonderful to be a creative person and pay the bills by using that talent in a practical way.  People who hire me fully expect to pay the bill.  So it’s been up to me to set the terms. 

When I was new to my business, I didn’t take deposits.  Silly, right?  My thought process was that I would rather do the job and get paid when it was complete.  But in the meantime, I was spending time on the project (inevitably something custom because in the early days, that was mostly what I did), and didn’t always have money for paper—or my bills.  Not being dramatic.  It’s the truth.  Then, after the person received their project, sometimes (not always, but enough to make me stressed about it), they would ask if it was ok if they sent me a check.  What could I say at that point?  I was new and inexperienced.  I remember going to the mailbox every day while waiting for payments to come in.

El's Cards early days kitchen office

This photo is from the early days in our Milton, MA desk was in the kitchen!

That is no longer how we handle payments.  We have a clear policy about payment.  COD.  It’s simple.  Nothing gets shipped until payment has been received in full.  This applies to everyone.  But most importantly, remember that  this is only our policy. It may not be what is comfortable for you.  I think of that feeling of the empty mailbox and know this is the best way for my business.  We have lost wholesale clients because they expect “net 30”.  And that is OK.  We are confident in our product, customer service, and set our own terms.  We run our business in the way that is best for us.

3. Never lose sight of my vision for El’s Cards! This one is HUGE!!  About 5 years ago, I was invited to participate in a workshop about bettering my business.  It was all about the vision of your business and how important it is not to lose sight of that. 

The woman who ran the workshop was so wonderful! Her name is Heather Robertson and I learned a lot from her.  The event was for wedding creatives and it was so helpful. I participated in this workshop for a few years and always came away with something new. But the first year I enjoyed the workshop was by far the most impactful for my experience. 

Heather was focused on the vision we have for the direction of our businesses.  Now, whenever I am asked to do a special project, I ask of myself, “Is this in line with the vision I have for El’s Cards?”  If the answer is no, then I do not take on the project. 

It has been hard to set these boundaries about what we can and can’t do. But as we have grown increasingly busier over the years, it is so important to stay focused. In the beginning I had so many irons in the fire because I didn’t have a definite direction, and put simply, I needed the income.  Now we do have a more definite direction, and we need to stay on track for our long term goals.

Bold Arrival workshop

Group selfie taken by Meg the foreground :)  Surrounded by great creative people!!

4. Figure out your strengths-and hire others as needed!   When I first started out,  I did it all!  All the business aspects and all the creative parts of El’s Cards were my responsibility.  Over time, it became clear that in order to keep El’s Cards moving forward, I would need help.  For four summers, someone came in one day a week to help with production-my friend Lisa, then my BFF Jody, my neighbor Zoe, and my godson, David.  And at the time, this was a great solution.  Of course, Bob and I did the craft shows together on many weekends.  We got the idea that El's Cards could actually be a business that could sustain us both financially.

It became clear to both me and Bob, that if El’s Cards was to really grow and become what we hoped, Bob would need to come on board full time vs. us hiring a full time person for production. There could not be a better person for this job than Bob (more will be revealed in Bob’s upcoming blog post about getting organized)!  We are now co-owners of El’s Cards and handle the things that are our own strengths.

We have looked into sending out some projects for print and did so with our calendars a few years ago.  After doing this for a couple of years, we decided that we like to have control over final colors in print and also when things were completed.    This is something we are still looking into, but it is best for us to have control over the production timelines.  So currently we are sticking with doing all our printing in house.

We do have a wonderful web developer for all the behind the scenes on the website. Erik Silver has built many great pages and added some special features that required an internet expert.   Erik is a valued part of the El’s Cards team.  And we did also hire someone to build this website for us...and the previous websites before. More on this in another post in this series!

We are still growing and are looking into some new systems for the future! Just recently 3 different wedding professionals have suggested the same client management software to us.  I'm excited about getting this going!  It sounds like it will really simplify my business life.

Check out part 2 in our series.

Have a great day!

Bottles of ink cover photo by Rachel Halsey.